Jul 30, 2023

Hyperion Records Now on Streaming

by Bill Heck

Those of our readers who use streaming to listen to classical music will be pleased to hear that Hyperion Records is making its catalog of recordings available on all streaming platforms. Many of us had been hoping for this development in the four months since Universal Music Group (UMG) acquired Hyperion, and now it has come to pass.

The first 200 albums were released in late July; subsequent collections will follow every two weeks starting September 15, with the entire catalog of over 2,000 albums released by next spring. Going forward from now, all new Hyperion titles will be simultaneously available for streaming, physical purchase, and download.

To my knowledge, Hyperion is – or rather was – the last major holdout from streaming. Classical Candor has reviewed multiple Hyperion releases by artists such as pianists Sir Stephen Hough and Angela Hewitt, and the label has an excellent reputation among classical music listeners. The label also is known for a wide repertoire, and the range includes releases of music that are unique to Hyperion.

Fortunately, digital booklets for each release are being made available on streaming platforms that carry the option. (For example, I was able to verify that the booklets were there for a quick sample of releases on Qobuz.) Sung texts for choral and vocal music also will be available to streaming platforms with the functionality. The second phase of catalog releases, the one coming up in September, will encompass more than 70 albums, focused on several featured artist’s complete discography. Subsequent phases will focus on genres such as choral music, string quartets, Baroque, early music, and solo vocal.

We at Classical Candor think that this is a wonderful development for classical music listeners. In particular, those of us who listen mostly via streaming these days will have access to performances by some fine artists that have been otherwise difficult to hear. More generally, the streaming option will make it easier for listeners, such as those reading our reviews, to sample works that may be of interest. Speaking for myself, I can’t wait to dig into the Hyperion catalog.

Prokofiev's Complete Works for Piano (5 CD Review)

by Bill Heck

Sergei Prokofiev: Piano Music. Gyorgy Sandor. Volumes 1 – 5. Vox-NX-2084 to 2088

Continuing their project of reviving and re-releasing items from the Vox catalog, Naxos has turned out what appears to be the only currently available traversal of all of Sergei Prokofiev’s works for solo piano. These recordings were originally issued on six LPs (I owned the two volume version, each volume being a three LP boxed set); they subsequently appeared in CD format, reduced to five of the silver disks; and finally the current incarnation packages each of the five disks separately. The album covers are simple and mostly unicolored, one green, another yellow, etc., which provides a nice way to tell them apart quickly.

I've always wondered about the place of Prokofiev in the hearts and minds of classical music lovers, at least here in the states, partly because other Russian composers of his era have more appealing stories. Rachmaninoff, born in 1873, 18 years before Prokofiev (born 1891), left Russia immediately following the revolution in 1917, never to return, and perhaps is popularly regarded as one of the displaced, an exile pining for the homeland to which he could (or would) not return. Although Stravinsky, born in 1882, was prevented from returning to his homeland first by World War I and then by the Russian revolution, he had long been living a cosmopolitan existence in Europe, ending up later in the US; it’s easy to forget that he was Russian in the first place. Shostakovich, born in 1906, 15 years after Prokofiev, not only was a giant figure in the musical world, but in the popular imagination, and in reality, was the persecuted victim of Stalin, trapped in the USSR and in constant danger of professional destruction and likely of his life. Moreover, the popular view is that his music mocks and protests against the repressive Soviet bureaucracy and the horror of Stalinist dictatorship.

Prokofiev is sandwiched among these, not only musically, but also, and again in the popular perception, as the one who had escaped from Russia only to return in the midst of his career. Although he, too, faced difficulties with the regime, surely – or so we think – he at least made his peace with the Stalinists and the bureaucracy. In fact, it's probably more accurate to say that Prokofiev just didn't give an off-tune quarter note about Stalin, the bureaucracy, or many of his supposed musical colleagues, yielding only on occasion and just enough to keep out of the gulag but otherwise going his own way. But this history means that there is no tragic or heroic or romantic story to tell.

In any case, although Prokofiev is widely regarded as a major figure in modern classical music, actual performances of his works are relatively rare, at least compared to those of Rachmaninoff or Shostakovich. "Rare" doesn't mean never, but I’m guessing that concert goers these days might hear multiple works by Rachmaninoff or Stravinsky or Shostakovich for every one by Prokofiev.

I'm certainly not looking to debate the relative merits of these composers nor their popular images, but I would like to draw your attention to Prokofiev’s piano music. In all of his work, words like "sardonic", "witty", and even "humorous" immediately come to mind; sweeping long-form statements perhaps not so much. Compositionally, Prokofiev constantly plays with dissonance but never quite abandons tonality; to my ears, this helps to make his music both listenable and interesting. Tempos and tone range all over the place; boredom with this music is not likely a thing.

In regard to piano music specifically, it also helps to know that Prokofiev was a piano virtuoso. Indeed, during his time in the US, he supported himself as a pianist, not as a composer (which may go some way to explaining why he went back to Russia). But if you think that his orchestral output may be underperformed, it is as nothing compared to his solo piano output. No; his sonatas will never displace those of Beethoven, but much of his work deserves a hearing from any classical music fan.

On to the recordings at hand. As I'm reviewing the entire series of five CDs, I'll say right up front that none but the most dedicated Prokofiev fanboys/girls are likely to sit down and listen straight through to all of them. Instead, this series rewards selective listening: dip in anywhere for one or a few works; take them in small doses and bite-size chunks (even the sonatas are short), and enjoy the shifting kaleidoscopes of ideas, dissonances, and harmonies.

As to this particular collection, its first virtue is simply its completeness. Prokofiev wrote a lot of piano music; some of these pieces have been recorded multiple times, while others are unknown on disk. The more cynical among us might say that some of the unknown ones deserve to stay unknown, and obviously some works are both more important and more rewarding than others (as is true with any composer), but having everything in one place, or in this case one series, enables those of us interested in Prokofiev’s work to make up our own minds about what's important and what's not.

Completeness would be for naught if the quality of the performances was mediocre or worse, but not to worry. This entire series was well regarded way back in the 1970’s when it came out on the original Vox Box LPs, and there's no reason to argue with that assessment today. Sandor had a superb and well-deserved reputation as an interpreter of modern composers, especially Bartok, with whom he studied, and Prokofiev. The readings here are both sympathetic and musical; Sandor is never fazed by the technical demands that might sometimes derail a less competent player, and his well-judged playing brings these sometimes difficult pieces to life. 

The obvious comparisons for of these pieces are recordings by the Russian master, Sviatoslav Richter. In a very rough comparison, I would characterize Sandor’s playing as smoother with a slightly more delicate touch. Please understand that I use the term “delicate” on in a comparative sense: for instance, in the fourth sonata, “delicate” is the last word that would come to mind! Richter, on the other hand, often plays more aggressively, really pounding the keyboard at times – and granted, Prokofiev's music often responds well to pounding. No doubt there are some works for which Richter's recordings will be the generally preferable ones, but the difficulty is in figuring out which works those are.

Richter's recordings, and not just those of Prokofiev’s music, have been released and re-released and re-re-released in multiple versions on multiple labels over the last several decades, and the quality of those recordings varies tremendously. For example, I stumbled upon what must have been an old Melodiya recording of the sixth sonata which assaulted my ears with truly wretched mono sound. On the other hand, at least some of the tracks on the “Richter the Master" collection on Deca were pretty decent indeed. Those who are particularly interested in Prokofiev’s piano works and want to explore different versions likely would be willing to plow through all the alternatives. However, those of us who simply want to hear excellent performances of this music with excellent sonics can be confident in staying with the Vox series.

Speaking of sonics, the recording of the piano is very good indeed, especially considering the age. The piano is close miced, which contributes to a sense of clarity that fits music well. The stereo image is a little wide and perhaps a little more diffuse than the best, and the lowest registers of the piano don't have quite as much weight as the best of contemporary digital recordings, but overall the sound is miles above average and you won’t notice these minor issues as you focus on the music.

In summary, if you are at all curious about Prokofiev’s piano works, any volume from this series would be a good starting point. My advice is to, as they say, collect all five and start working your leisurely way through some fascinating music.

Jul 26, 2023

Downsize, Upsize (Part III)

by Karl Nehring

Those who have been following this series will recall that at the end of Part II (which you can find here) I mentioned doing some careful research into speakers as well as consulting with some knowledgeable audio experts, to whom I had some access by virtue of my position at The $ensible Sound magazine. (It was also through the magazine that I first became acquainted with John Puccio, who was the Classical Music Editor.) Based partially on some conversations with the late Tom Nousaine, I finally decided upon a pair of speakers from a small company in Springfield, Illinois, by the name of Legacy Audio. Actually, I had reviewed a pair of speakers from this same company a few years previously when they were doing business under the name Reel-to-Real Designs. Those speakers showed promise, but the company had made significant progress since then and their new flagship speaker, the Focus (pictured right), was just what I was looking for. Not only did they feature the extended bass response I was seeking from their multiple woofers, but their cabinetry was simply gorgeous. 

Next came my one diversion from the Focus model, as Legacy Audio’s designer, Bill Dudleston, was eager for me to audition a new loudspeaker he was coming out with called the Empire (pictured left). These were also large speakers, measuring 54"H x 13"W x 10"D and weighing 100 pounds, each but were of a more radical design than the Focus. The driver complement comprised three 12" carbon/cellulose woofers (two used primarily for bass frequencies, the third functioning as a "midwoofer"), two 5.25" midranges with cones made of Kevlite-Ti (a mixture of Kevlar, graphite, and titanium), and a 1" silk-dome tweeter. Except for the tweeter, all the drivers operated in dipole configuration. Although one might expect such a speaker to lack in bass, the Empires were solid down to about 40 Hz. For true full-range reproduction, however, the Empires required a subwoofer, so Legacy also sent along their Point One model, which featured a 15" floor-facing woofer and a 15" passive radiator at the rear of the cabinet. The internal Class D amplifier was rated at 750 watts. 

Although the Empire was in many ways an excellent-sounding unit, it never really took hold in the marketplace, and disappeared from the Legacy catalog after a relatively brief stay. My next pair of speakers was the next incarnation of the Focus model, the Focus 20/20 (right). This version sported three 12” woofers (two for bass, the third providing some phase cancellation to flatten the overall response), two 7” Kevlar midranges, and a 1.25” dome mid/tweeter plus a ribbon upper tweeter. The 20/20s served as my faithful reference for some years. The model gathered some excellent reviews and began to be used more and more as a studio monitor for mastering purposes. Still, designer Bill Dudleston knew that the speaker could be made even better as better drivers emerged in the marketplace. So, despite the success of the Focus 20/20, Dudleston rolled up his sleeves and went to work to see whether the new generation of drivers could lead to evolutionary improvements to the already solid Focus design package.


The first fruit of his labors was the Focus HD, a worthy successor to the 20/20. But Dudleston was not done. He envisioned a speaker that would take the design of the Focus HD and push it to new sonic and aesthetic heights. The end result of his quest was the Focus Special Edition (SE), a speaker that has changed in more ways than Dudleston imagined when he first contemplated implementing those evolutionary improvements to the Focus design. Taking the Focus HD as his starting point, he reshaped the cabinet, making it a bit narrower but deeper, plus stiffening and angling the sidewalls, front baffle, and top to avoid parallel surfaces. The Focus HD looked much like the previous generations of Focus speakers, albeit with different drivers. The SE (left), however, with its beveled surfaces and beautiful finishes, makes an indelibly striking first impression of quality. To my eye, at least, the design of the SE is reminiscent of Cadillac’s “Art and Science” design aesthetic, especially in its remarkable black pearl finish, which is the finish I ordered for my pair. 

As mentioned above, the drivers in the Focus SE were of a newer vintage and design than those used in the Focus 20/20. For the treble frequencies, the 20/20 employed a 1.25” upper midrange dome and a ribbon tweeter. The SE replaced these two units with two new neo-ribbon drivers. The very top end of the sonic spectrum was handled by a 1” Kapton pleated ribbon with a custom-machined acoustic chamber, a shaped lens to control dispersion, and a neodymium motor structure. The 3” mid-ribbon featured a push-pull neodymium magnetic structure with an ultra-low-mass vapor-deposited Kapton diaphragm. This driver operated below 8kHz to provide a transition to the cone midrange drivers. The two 7” midrange drivers were the same size as those in the 20/20, but are quite different in construction. The two 7” Kevlar midrange units in the 20/20 were superseded in the SE by 7 “ drivers in which threads of silver are woven into a carbon fiber diaphragm to distribute bending modes across the spectrum, then backed with a layer of ultra-light Rohacell. The two 12” bass drivers on the front panel were also different from those used in the 20/20. The aluminum cone woofers in the SE employ the patented AURA motor technology, which features a totally enclosed magnetic structure to provide excellent electrical damping. Two vents are mounted in the rear of the cabinet, but according to Dudleston, the SE does not use a traditional vented bass alignment; instead, the ports are utilized to lower the tuning frequency of the enclosure before electrical transformation is employed on the bass drivers. Exterior dimensions and weight of the Focus SE were virtually identical to the previous version at 55”H X 15.5”W X 13” D and 195 lbs. Sensitivity was rated at 94.5 dB. Overall frequency response is specified as -2 dB at 30 kHz and 18 Hz. Impedance is specified at 4 Ohms.


These speakers served me faithfully for more than a decade. I had listened to other fine speakers, but never heard any that ever caused me to think I might want to make a change. Oh, there were the Legacy Audio Whispers (right) – an incredibly open-sounding speaker that Bill Heck had reviewed for The $ensible Sound when it had first been released and which I had subsequently auditioned at Legacy’s Springfield facility. Bill and I both still have a soft spot for those speakers, with their amazing imaging capabilities, but neither of us has a room in which they would really fit; and besides, Legacy does not really offer them anymore. Fast-forward to the present, and Bill is quite content with his Legacy Signature speakers (see review here), which fit into his current listening room quite well. (As an aside, when I was completing my year of grad school at Kent State back in 1977 and had been accepted at Ohio State for the next year, the KSU department chair told me that when I got down to OSU I should look up fellow by the name of Bill Heck, who had been a grad student at Kent the year before me and then gone down to OSU. I looked Bill up, discovered that he was not only a great guy but also an avid audiophile, and we have been great friends ever since.)

Then, for whatever reason – although perhaps the realization that I had reached my seventies might have had something to do with it – I found myself thinking more and more seriously about the future. At some point, my thoughts went, my wife and I would no longer be able to go on living in rural isolation, meaning that we would most likely end up either moving in with or living nearby one of our children, or else moving into some kind of retirement facility. Hmm. In either event, we would be definitely be downsizing, meaning I would no longer have a room that could accommodate large speakers. I suddenly became consumed with the idea that I needed to prepare for this eventual downsizing of our living arrangements by downsizing my stereo system – which essentially meant getting rid of my big speakers and replacing them with small speakers. It was an idea that I just could not get out of my head no matter how hard I tried.


I have a good friend named Cortney who lives nearby and is an avid audiophile. I mentioned that I was thinking of selling my speakers, he expressed an interest, and soon we had settled on a deal. He went about selling some of his speakers and some other equipment that he owned and began paying me in installments. Meanwhile, I started trying to decide what speakers I was going to get to replace my SEs. I started doing some more research listening to some potential candidates, both by myself and with Bill Heck at some of the audio salons in the Columbus area. I auditioned various models from Bowers & Wilkins, KEF, Sonus Faber, GoldenEar, Revel, and Paradigm. Although I heard some especially good sound from the KEF and Revel models I gave a listen to, once again it was Legacy Audio that impressed me the most with their Calibre speaker, a three-way studio monitor  (4” AMT tweeter, 7.5” midrange, 8” long-throw woofer on the op of the cabinet augmented by two 8” side-mounted passive radiators). Unfortunately, the first time I had heard them, they were a partially disassembled “working” pair that Dudleston just kind of stuck the midrange driver back into right at the last minute and had them quickly set up so that I could hear them during the visit when Bill Heck and I were in Springfield so that Bill could audition the Wavelet. Although the Wavelet was certainly impressive, the Calibres sounded good, not great – but were obviously not a calibrated, finished pair. However, the time was soon coming when my friend was going to be paying me off completely. I needed to make a decision – and soon.

I have a son who lives an hour or so away from Springfield, so the next time Marilyn and I went to visit him, we arranged to visit Legacy and asked them to set up a good demo with the Focus and the Calibres. So this time the Calibres were a finished, tuned pair. Except for the deepest bass, they sounded virtually identical to the larger speakers. Marilyn liked them, so boom! My mind was made up. I was going to downsize! Not too long after I got back home, I ordered a pair of Calibres, plus I ordered a pair of SVS Micro 3000 subwoofers (on sale over a holiday weekend) to augment the bottom end. The Calibres were going to take a month or so to be delivered because of the production schedule at Legacy, which was fine, for I was in no huge hurry. This was going to work out great – even adding in the extra cost of the subwoofers, I was going to be ending up with some money left over. Marilyn was pleased by that idea…


Everything was falling into place regarding my grand downsizing project. For a time, I occupied my mind by thinking about where I was going to place the new speakers and subwoofers in the room, how I was going to match levels, what crossover frequency and slope I would wind up using, at what point I would possibly try to fine-tune things using the Dirac software in my NAD 658, etc. But as I thought more about such things, I began to realize that hey, I already had better bass response than I was probably going to end up with, I was not really going to be gaining any floor space, and that after enjoying and loving the big sound of Focus speakers for so long, it would break my heart to give them up – regardless of how excellent the Calibres might sound. Moreover, I realized it would be years before we would be leaving our home; truth be told, my downsizing idea had been an illusory obsession that had led me to make some less-than-optimal decisions. Now what?


What to do, what to do? The first – and most daunting – task was to admit to Marilyn that I now felt as though I had made a mistake and that rather than get the Calibres, I wanted instead to see about purchasing a new pair of Focus SEs, assuming it would still be possible. She was not thrilled, given that this meant that rather than making a little money on the whole deal I would now be spending several thousand more dollars – just to end up with essentially the same speakers that I already owned. Brilliant idea, dear husband! 


But she knew I would be miserable, and a pain to live with, so she gave her blessing. I immediately contacted Legacy and was able to cancel the Calibre order and order a pair of Focus SEs. I then contacted SVS, finding out to my great relief that I done so one day before their full refund/free return shipping window would have slammed shut. Phew – that was close! As it turned out, I had never even opened the boxes the Micro 3000s had been shipped in, so preparing them for return was a snap. A couple of weeks or so later a semi showed up to drop off a couple of BIG boxes strapped to a wooden pallet. Cortney came over with one of his friends and a sturdy dolly. Before long, my new SEs were standing where my old ones had stood, and what were now his SEs were on thir way to their new home in the back of his SUV. Even though it had started raining, we were both sporting big smiles!

So, what was the end result of my, ahem, downsizing effort? I went from a large pair of Legacy Audio Focus SEs to a pair of Legacy Focus SEs of yes, the same size, and spent a good sum of money in the process. My new pair is nearly a dozen years younger. The two tweeter drivers on the older version have been replaced by a 1” AMT super tweeter and 4” AMT tweeter. The older pair (which are now in Cortney’s system, where they sound really excellent – he loves them) the premium Black Pearl finish, while the new ones are in a standard (but still beautiful) finish, Black Oak (not the finith pictured at left. Sonically, what can I say? I loved the old ones; I love the new ones. However, one benefit of the whole “downsizing” fiasco was it spurred me into thinking more seriously about room placement. While I was in the process of fine-tuning the positioning of the new pair, experimenting with toe-in and such, I ran across a brief YouTube video that you can watch here a in which Gene DellaSala at Audioholics suggested experimenting with moving speakers closer together/listening position farther back to improve imaging. Intrigued, I gave it a try, and discovered that moving the SEs approximately eight inches closer together led to a more coherent stereo image on many orchestral recordings. Bingo! Several months and several thousand dollars since the beginning of my downsizing project, I had attained a definite sonic benefit. 

Not only that, I had downsized the space between my speakers by eight whole inches. After all. When it comes to downsizing successfully, it’s one step at a time, right? Hey, I’m on my way…


Jul 23, 2023

Bobo Stenson Trio: Sphere

by Karl Nehring

Per Nørgård: You Shall Plant a Tree; Anders Jormin: Unquestioned Answer – Charles Ives in Memoriam; Sven-Erik Bäck: Spring; Jormin: Kingdom of Coldness; Bäck: Communion Psalm; Jung-Hee Woo: The Red FlowerAlfred Janson: Ky and Beautiful Madame Ky; Sibelius: Valsette op. 40/1; Nørgård: You Shall Plant a Tree (var.). Bobo Stenson, piano; Anders Jormin, double bass; Jon Fält, drums. ECM 2775 487 3808

The Swedish pianist Bobo Stenson (b. 1944) is probably unfamiliar to most classical music fans, but perhaps this latest album, which features a generous dollop of music by classical composers, will pique some interest, at least among classical fans who also have an interest in other forms of music – as I hope most who follow this blog do. There is a brief YouTube video in which you can learn a bit more about the genesis of this album and some of the musical influences behind it (that video can be found here). As you may have guessed from the instrumentation of his trio, Bobo Stenson is a jazz pianist who leads a jazz trio. After establishing a reputation in Europe, he then gained attention in the USA as he joined saxophonist Charles Lloyd’s quartet in 1988 and then played piano on Lloyd’s first five albums for ECM: Fish Out of Water (1989), Notes from Big Sur (1991), The Call (1993), All My Relations (ECM, 1994), and Canto (1996), all of which are simply sublime. However, if you take the time to watch the video, you will discover that these musicians hold classical music in high regard. Their previous ECM release, Contra la Indecisión (2018), included music by the classical composers Bartók, Satie, and Mompou.

On this new release, they open and close the album with a piece by the Swedish composer Per Nørgård (b. 1932) titled
 You Shall Plant a Tree. This is fascinating music – there is a melody here, but the three musicians are also freely exploring. I had commented on a boxed set of Nørgård’s eight symphonies in a brief commentary you can find here; listening to the trio play his music made me think of his symphonies and their fascinating sound world. The trio’s bassist, Anders Jormin, contributes a couple of pieces, one of them (Unquestioned Answer – Charles Ives in Memoriam) inspired by Charles Ives, with a similar feeling of ambiguity; the other (Kingdom of Coldness) tending into more familiar jazz territory. Even more of a familiar type of jazz tune is Jung-Hee Woo’s The Red Flower, which swings gently along. Sven-Erik Bäck (1919-1994) was a Swedish classical composer. His Communion Psalm is an expressive piece that communicates a sense of reverence and ritual. From the late Norwegian pianist and composer Alfred Janson (1937-2019) comes Ky and Beautiful Madame Ky, restless and percussive. And then there is the Sibelius, his brief original piece for solo piano here stretched out by the trio more than five times its original length, improvised, given a whole new meaning and feeling. Beautiful recorded sound, but it would have been so nice to have liner notes. Still, a highly recommendable release for both jazz and classical fans.

Jul 19, 2023

Recent Releases No. 55 (CD Reviews)

by Karl Nehring

Sebastian Fagerlund: Terral (Flute Concerto); Strings to the Bone; Chamber Symphony. Sharon Bezaly, flute; Tapiola Sinfonietta conducted by John Storgärds. BIS-2639 SACD


These compositions by the Finnish composer Sebastian Fagerlund (b. 1972) reside in that in-between area: somewhat on the more modern side, with less of an emphasis on melody than more conservative listeners might prefer, but at the same time featuring passages of intriguing sounds and textures that will appeal to all but the most reactionary of listeners. Certainly the virtuosity of flautist Sharon Bezaly should be apparent to all as she takes center stage in Terral, the three-movement flute concerto that opens the program. Throughout the work, there are waves of tension and energy that ebb and flow, with the various sections of the orchestra getting their opportunities to interact with the soloist. The following Strings to the Bone is a fascinating piece in one movement that seems to shape-shift as it moves along, one of those works that immediately invites repeat listening for both pleasure and understanding. The program concludes with the three-movement Chamber Symphony. The movements are played without a break, the overall progression being slow-fast-slow, but of course the end product is more nuanced than that. It is a fascinating work, and the transparency of sound captured by the BIS engineering team offers listeners a true luxury listening experience.

Thorvaldsdottir: Archora; Aiōn. Iceland Symphony Orchestra conducted by Eva Ollikainen. Sono Luminus DSL-92268


We have reviewed a variety of music by the Icelandic Anna Thorvaldsdottir (b. 1977) previously at Classical Candor, including music for piano (reviewed here), a string quartet (reviewed here), and a work for orchestra, (reviewed here). On two of those three releases, all of which are on the Sono Luminus label, her compositions are included along with those of other composers; only for Enigma, her string quartet, is she the sole composer represented. However, this new release showcases two of her large-scale compositions for orchestra: Archora (2022) was commissioned by the BBC Proms, Los Angeles Philharmonic, Munich Philharmonic, Orchestre de Paris, Klangspuren Schwaz [a music festival], and the Iceland Symphony Orchestra, while Aiōn (2018), was commissioned by the Iceland Symphony Orchestra and the Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra. Both are bold, powerful works, bursting with energy. Archora is in one movement, which lasts nearly 21 minutes as performed here. The music sounds as though it is trying to burst its bounds, as though the composition demands more energy that the orchestra can quite deliver. That is not a criticism of the orchestra, or of the piece – it is simply the best way I can think of to describe how the music seems to be straining to become something larger than it is. On the one hand, it is an impressive sound; on the other hand, there are times when it seems as though perhaps less might be more. There is always just so much going on. Aiōn, in three movements, is also thickly scored, is also bursting with energy, but offers more sonic variety. Especially satisfying is its third movement, titled Entropia, wherein brass, strings, and percussion sections all get a chance to shine and interact with each other, leading to a glorious final few minutes. Sono Luminus has done an excellent job of capturing the power of the orchestra, and for those few who might have the requisite audio equipment, have included along with the regular CD a Pure Audio Blu-ray disc that supports both stereo and surround-sound (Native 7.1.4) playback. 

Hough, Stephen. Enough: Scenes from Childhood. Faber & Faber Limited (2023)


A few years ago we reviewed a fascinating book by British pianist Stephen Hough (b. 1961) titled Rough Ideas (see review here), a volume in which he offered a blend of insights into music and a variety of other topics. Anyone who read the book could not help but be impressed by the depth and breadth of Hough’s knowledge not only of music, but of other arts as well. That same post with the book review also included a review of his superlative recording of the complete Chopin Nocturnes; other Hough releases reviewed in Classical Candor include music by Mompou, reviewed here; a Schubert disc, reviewed here; and a release containing music by several composers, reviewed here. In this new book, Hough offers a kind of memoir, giving us some insights into his musical education, his changing outlook on religious belief, his early education, and his early challenges with coming to terms with his sexuality. Throughout, he writes with insight, honesty, and wit. Hough was recently knighted by King Charles, so he is now Sir Stephen Hough, CBE. It is an honor he richly deserves, for his service to music has been exemplary. I am certainly not alone in looking eagerly forward not only to future recordings by Sir Steven, but to future installments of his memoirs.  


Jul 16, 2023

Downsize, Upsize (Part II)

by Karl Nehring

For those who might not have read Part I, which you can see here, at this point in the story I had just re-enlisted in the Army early in 1971 and used part of my cash bonus to purchase a pair of Bose 901 speakers. Because Bose recommended a minimum of 60 watts per channel for the 901s, I also sold my Kenwood receiver and purchased a more premium Pioneer unit rated at 65 wpc. (Some old-timers might remember the McIntosh clinics, in which McIntosh dealers would have a representative from the McIntosh factory come to their store and set up a test bench. The dealers would invite customers to stop by and bring their amps and receivers in to get measured to see whether they met their published specs and how they stacked up against McIntosh and other gear the dealer might be peddling. I was quite happy to find out that when I brought the unit in for testing at one of those clinics more than seven years after I had purchased it that the McIntosh rep, a really professional gentleman in a white shirt and tie, found that the old Pioneer met or surpassed all its specs. In fact, he commented that it was a first-class receiver, a cut above most of the units he had tested of its vintage.) Some audio buffs turn their noses up at the idea of the Bose 901, but at the time, it truly was a remarkable product, especially in relation to what else was out there. I had come close to purchasing KLH 5s, but preferred the 901s overall.


A few more quick comments about the 901s before I move on. First, in terms of music listening, the early 1970s were – at least for young white American males like me – the era of rock and fusion. The record collection my wife and I had assembled comprised mainly our 60s rock records, some folk (Joan Baez, Joni Mitchell, etc.), a few orchestral LPs, and a rapidly growing number of jazz-rock fusion releases (e.g., Return to ForeverThe Inner Mounting FlameBitches Brew), and this stuff sounded really good through the 901s. Another thing to recall is that after the original 901s, Bose decided they needed to be more efficient, and went from a sealed to a ported design, giving up some bass to gain some efficiency. No, I am not saying the Bose 901s were the be-all and end-all; however, they were certainly not as bad as some folks have claimed. Anyway, back to the story…

We returned to the USA in January of 1974, bringing the stereo system with us and continuing to acquire new LPs to enjoy through the 901s, including Weather Report’s Mysterious Traveler, Antonio Carlos Jobim’s Stone Flower, and Joni Mitchell’s Court and Spark. In February of 1975 I was honorably discharged from the Army. Because BYU had a policy that granted those on academic suspension the opportunity to re-enroll upon their successful completion of military service, Marilyn and I moved our two young sons, our records, and our stereo into a small basement apartment in Provo, UT, in April. That very first semester, I signed up for an elective course in music appreciation that would change my life, for the professor, Dr. Earl, made classical music come to life in a way that immediately captured my attention and imagination. The next thing you know, I was buying all manner of budget-label classical LPs. My time in the Army plus my becoming a family man had made me much more mature, meaning that now I was able to do well in my classes. Not only that, I had a beautiful wife, two healthy kids, a rapidly growing record collection, and the world’s best speakers. What more could I possibly want? 


As you might guess, I soon found out…


One fateful day I strolled into a stereo store to purchase a replacement stylus for my cartridge. The salesperson asked about the rest of my system, and when I mentioned rather smugly that I owned Bose 901s, he said something along the lines of, “well, those were certainly exciting when they first came out, but they’ve been surpassed these days. And if you like them because of that reflected sound, I can show you something right now that does a better job.” I then spent some time listening to some Sonab speakers from Sweden that did indeed do a better job. Needless to say, when I got home and told Marilyn that I had heard speakers I liked better than our 901s, she was not too thrilled. You see, when I had bought the 901s, the line I used on Marilyn was that we would never again need new speakers. Hmmm. 


Although I did not wind up with the Sonabs, hearing them started me on my speaker quest. I spent a lot of time hanging out at various audio stores, records in hand, listening to various speakers. I was quite taken by the Dahlquist DQ-10s, but could not afford them. Then I discovered a brand-new speaker that I liked even better than the Dahlquists, the DCM Time Windows, but no, I could not quite afford those yet, either. So at this point I finally wound up purchasing a pair of Polk Audio Monitor 10s (right), which sounded quite good for their asking price. And they were big speakers. Maybe not huge, but certainly big. They had a full sound, with some heft and impact, but also a reasonable amount of detail and transparency for speakers in their price range.

So it was the Polks through the rest of our in time in Utah, where in the spring of 1977 I completed my undergraduate studies. It was a great feeling to leave this time not as I had been forced to leave eight years previously – academically suspended – but as the recipient of two bachelor’s degrees (communications and philosophy). We then headed back to Ohio for a year of grad school at Kent State; by the end of that school year, I had been invited to join the staff of The $ensible Sound, an independent audio magazine that focused on more affordable equipment, and I sold the Polks with the idea that when we got settled in our next residence (I had been accepted for grad school at Ohio State), I finally would get the Time Windows that I had been wanting and saving for.


In the summer of 1978 we moved into the house where we still live today, in a rural area northwest of Columbus, Ohio. Here I finally had the luxury of a relatively large room that could serve as a dedicated audio room. In addition, our nearest neighbors lived a quarter-mile up the road, so I could play loud music any time, night or day – unless it would disturb Marilyn or the kids. I quickly set up my new pair of Time Windows (left) which produced some remarkably good sound in our new home. I had picked up an Onkyo A7 integrated amplifier to replace the old Pioneer receiver, and then came a used Son of Ampzilla (I retained the Onkyo for a time for its preamp section). But hey, I digress once again. Back to speakers!


After the Time Windows came KEF 105s (right), which offered better bass heft and impact than the Time Windows could offer. By now I was doing more and more with The $ensible Sound, at some point becoming Associate Editor, and then later, Editor. I had all kinds of equipment showing up for review, including speakers. I’m not exactly sure just what speakers I actually owned and which I had on extended review from among the following, although most I believe I owned, and most of which were relatively large speakers with plenty of bass wallop. At any rate, after the KEF 105s came a pair of Vandersteen 2Cs, which seemed to have better transparency and imaging than the KEFs. Somewhere along the way was a pair of B&W 802s, beautifully made but just too warm-sounding. The next two pairs were both from JSE, featuring the patented “Infinite Slope” (~100 dB/oct) crossovers designed by Richard Modaferri (legendary McIntosh tuner designer and one of the nicest people in the business), the medium-sized Model 1s and then the full-sized Model 2s.


Then came the Carver Silver Edition Amazing Loudspeakers (left) – this pair was a long-term loaner, which at some point received upgraded ribbon drivers that were installed by Bob Carver himself. Alas, although these speakers did indeed sound amazing most of the time, the ribbons tended to buzz occasionally when hit with plucked guitar notes at energetic listening levels. So I decided it was time to go back to a speaker with dynamic drivers, so I started doing some research and making some inquiries around the industry. Finally, after extended consideration and consultation, I made up my mind and ordered a pair of large, full-range speakers with extended bass response. It would prove to be a fruitful and fateful decision.

 (to be continued)


Jul 12, 2023

Mozart: Complete Piano Sonatas Vol. 4 (CD Review)

by Karl Nehring

Piano Sonata in F Major, No. 2, K.280Piano Sonata in C Major, No. 1, K.279Piano Sonata in D Major, No. 6, K.284,”Dürnitz.” Orli Shaham, piano. Canary Classics CC23

The Israeli-born American pianist Orli Shaham has performed with many of the major orchestras around the world, and has appeared in recital from Carnegie Hall to the Sydney Opera House. She is Artistic Director of Pacific Symphony’s chamber series and Artistic Director of the interactive children's concert series, Orli Shaham’s Bach Yard. She is also a co-host of the national radio program From the Top and is on faculty at The Juilliard School. We have reviewed several previous releases by Ms. Shaham in Classical Candor – all featuring music by Mozart – including a disc of piano concertos reviewed here by John Puccio and Volumes Nos. 1-3 of the piano sonatas, which I reviewed here. Although I had found those first three volumes to enjoyable, I was not quite prepared for what I heard when I auditioned this release, which feature three of Mozart’s earliest sonatas.  


These three works have a freshness and sparkle that are captivating from start to finish. From the very first notes, the music just draws you right in. The liner notes offer an explanation of why this is so: “Mozart didn’t start out a household name. As a young musician, he traveled widely and — like any good traveling salesman — needed samples to show off to prospective patrons. So, during a journey to Munich in 1774–1775, he wrote six ‘calling cards’ to play at the homes of potential benefactors. Three of these calling cards — the sonatas K. 280, K. 279, and K. 284 — form this disc. What Mozart could do was in many ways the cutting edge of composition and keyboard technique. He was an early adopter of technology, writing for newly invented instruments and experimenting with any innovation that could be used to artistic effect… Even on a standard keyboard, he never stopped exploring: How many different kinds of sounds — rich and plaintive, loud and soft, long and short, question and answer, excitement and heartbreak — can I make on this keyboard? Can I make a piece sound improvised? Can I draw people in with pauses (Sonata in F, K. 280)? Can I write a theme that isn’t really a melody (Sonata in C, K. 279)? Why not try a final movement of variations, instead of a rondo (Sonata in D, K. 284, ‘Dürnitz’)?”


Where Mozart’s later sonatas sometimes seem to must flow along elegantly and serenely, these have a nervous energy about them, a invoking a feeling of unpredictability that makes them seem more original and involving than some of his later music. You can close your eyes and imagine Mozart at the keyboard being a bit of a showman. No, these are not the keyboard pyrotechnics of a Liszt or Rachmaninoff, but within the constraints of the classical idiom in which he was working, Mozart wrote himself some music that really does grab the listener’s attention. Orli Shaham is certainly up to the demands of playing the music with finesse and flair, and as usual with this series, the engineering is excellent. Volume 5 should be released later in 2023 to complete the project. 

Jul 9, 2023

Downsize, Upsize (Part I)

by Karl Nehring


We have lived in our rural home for 45 years. Within a year or so of settling in, I purchased a pair of KEF 105 loudspeakers. Although over the preceding years I had owned several pairs of speakers with good performance, the bass capability and overall sense of ease that the KEFs brought to my listening room increased my enjoyment of music and convinced me that large speakers were the way to go given my fondness for large-scale orchestral works by Mahler, Shostakovich, Vaughan Williams, et al. Since then, I have owned or had in house for an extended length of time (I was the editor of an audio magazine for nearly three decades) several pairs of relatively large loudspeakers. However, about a year and a half ago I decided that after all those years of large speakers, it might finally be time to downsize from the pair I owned at that time, my beloved Legacy Audio Focus SEs (pictured) – and therein lies a tale…


First, however, a bit of background. The first stereo my family ever acquired was one of those little systems sold by salesmen who would come into your home and give a sales pitch for stereophonic sound by playing some demonstration tracks, the highlight of which was the ping-pong track, where we could hear the ball flying back and forth across our living room. Amazing! The record player was made –or at least branded – by a watch company (Longine’s or Bulova as I recall), and came with boxed sets of records from Reader’s Digest. My parents purchased several of these boxes, which were organized by musical category. I can’t remember them all, but there was an orchestral set that served as my introduction to classical music; I can still vividly recall being swept away by Debussy’s La Mer and being amazed that someone could compose something so breathtaking.


Our new stereo system came right around the time of the British Invasion, so of course even though we now had several boxes of records to listen to, we begged for some rock & roll records to play on our new stereo. A few days later, my mother came home from work with Beatles ‘65 and Mr. Tambourine Man by the Byrds. I played them over and over again, soon knowing every lyric by heart. By hearing them in stereo, I was struck by how goofy the stereo mix for the Beatles was – voices in one channel, guitars in the other. What the heck?! I soon made my first record purchase, Bringing It All Back Home by Bob Dylan. I thought it was the most profound thing I had ever heard; however, it drove my father up the wall, and before long, I was forbidden to play any Bob Dylan records when he was home. This system was also the one on which I played my first classical purchase, the Reiner/Chicago recording of Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 6. My high school band, in which I played bass clarinet,  was preparing a wind arrangement of the march movement for the Indiana state band contest, and I had become fascinated by the music and wanted to hear the whole symphony in its original form. Our band got the highest score in the state and the Pathetique is still one of my favorite symphonies.


Within a couple of years our family life was drastically changed when my father died suddenly from a heart attack. We wound up moving from our house on a one-acre lot to an apartment. I don’t recall what happened to our first stereo, but now we had one of those all-in-one TV/stereo consoles (a Motorola, I’m pretty sure). I was buying plenty records, mostly rock, although I also purchased my first jazz recording, New View by saxophonist John Handy, which also featured Bobby Hutcherson on vibes. A technological highlight of the console stereo was the reverb dial, which allowed you to add artificial reverberation to whatever you were playing. Adding just a touch to some of those rather dry rock recordings could make them sound a little more pleasant, but for whatever reason I would occasionally find myself getting into a mood that would result in my putting on Bob Dylan’s song “Visions of Johanna” and cranking the reverb dial way up. It was frightening.


Then it was off to college the first time with, alas, no stereo of my own in my dorm room, although I had taken some favorite LPs with me and occasionally got to listen to them on the console setup in the commons room. A really poor semester cost me my Honors Program scholarship and left me on academic probation (in hindsight, I now realize I was deeply depressed), I headed back home, where my mother and sisters had moved from the apartment into a house in another town. Then my mother got sick, couldn’t work, I worked full time and took care of her and my four younger sisters, and we moved into another house, where she became completely bedridden. On the good old Motorola console late some evenings evening I played the Blood Sweat and Tears album with David Clayton-Thomas, which my mother thought was wonderful until I showed her the cover and she was crestfallen to see they were “just a bunch of hippies.” Still, that console provided plenty of musical enjoyment for us both, along with mental and emotional sustenance that we both needed. 

But her condition continued to worsen. She was transported to a hospital in Chicago, then finally to a rest home in Rogers Park, near her father. Driving home from seeing her after what had been a deeply emotional visit, I listened to the Apollo 11 coverage on the car radio. On July 20, 1969, Neil Armstrong set foot on the moon. On July 21, my mother passed away. By the end of August, my sisters had been taken care of and I had purchased a little Allied Radio stereo system to load into the trunk of the Chevy Impala I inherited from my mother so that I could have music in my dorm room this time around.


Unfortunately, I still could not get my academic act together. I got high grades in a couple of classes, but failed to complete the rest. I went from academic probation to academic suspension. The one bright spot of that whole experience was meeting a young woman named Marilyn, with whom I immediately hit it off. We began dating, discovering that we had a lot in common – especially our love for and tastes in music, and in the summer of 1970 I would drive from Indiana to Ohio to visit her. We were seriously in love, but there was one little problem: the Selective Service folks now realized that I was no longer eligible for the hardship deferment I had received for taking care of my sisters while my mother was ill, and my miserable academic record meant that a student deferment was out of the question. I had been included in the first draft lottery and drawn the draft number 111. In July, 1970, I visited my draft board to verify that the official change of my draft status to 1A was in the works and would probably occur within a couple of weeks – and they were drafting numbers around 150 or so. I asked the woman ay the draft board whether there was a recruiting office in town; she replied that there was one upstairs above the drugstore right across the street. 

I crossed the street, climbed the stairs, and asked the Army recruiter whether he had anything that would keep me from going to Vietnam. He asked me whether I could score well on tests – I may have been suspended from college, but test-taking was always a breeze for me. I scored high on the tests, which made me eligible to sign up for Pershing missiles, which meant I could only be stationed in Germany or Oklahoma. I joined the Army in August (Marilyn and I had a serious discussion and agreed we would get married when I completed my service in three years), called Marilyn from a phone booth at Ft. Lewis after about my third day of basic training to say we should get married sooner because I had found out it was feasible to live as a married Army couple in Germany), got engaged over Christmas, then I said goodbye and headed to Germany in January, 1971.


By now, my guess is that many – perhaps most – readers are wondering what any of this has to do with speakers. Quite a bit, actually. Because Marilyn and I were both devoted music lovers, I knew our future apartment would have to have a decent stereo system. So a couple of months before returning to the states to get married, I went with my best buddy and his wife down to the Audio Club at Patch Barracks in Stuttgart, where audio equipment was available at a discount to military personnel. There I bought my first component system, which comprised a Philips turntable with an Elac cartridge, a Kenwood receiver rated at 23 watts per channel, and a pair of Wharfedale bookshelf speakers. I can’t recall the model, but they were two-way sealed design with a woofer in the 6-8” range. We set up the system in my friends’ apartment (mine was not yet ready) so they could enjoy it until I came back with Marilyn. We put on American Beautyby the Grateful Dead and were floored by how good it sounded. The Wharfedales were surprisingly nice little speakers.


But life was changing fast. I was getting promotions, I was getting married and moving out of the barracks into an apartment, and I had discovered Mahler and Beethoven. Not only that, I had made some return visits to the Audio Club, started reading stereo magazines, and had caught the audiophile bug. As nice as the Wharfedales were, they would not remain in my system for long. Early in 1972, I re-enlisted for three more years in the Army and then used part of my re-enlistment bonus to purchase the speakers of my dreams, the original Bose 901s. Thus began more than 50 years of speaker madness.


(To be continued)

Jul 5, 2023

Recent Releases No. 54 (CD Reviews)

by Karl Nehring

Gershwin: An American in ParisLullaby (version for string orchestra); Promenade (version for chamber orchestra); Cuban OvertureCatfish Row: Suite from Porgy and Bess. Leonard Slatkin, St. Louis Symphony Orchestra. VOX-VV-3019CD


Tchaikovsky: Symphony No. 4 in F minor, Op. 36Romeo and Juliet: Fantasy Overture after Shakespeare. Maurice Abravanel, Utah Symphony Orchestra. VOX-XX-3022-CD


It’s exciting to see some more recordings from the Vox vaults being given new life thanks to the good folks at Naxos, who have begun digging out some of the old analog master tapes that had been recorded by Elite Recordings back in the 1970s and preparing new digital masters using state-of-the-art 192 kHz/24-bit technology. As the note on the back cover proclaims, “The Elite Recordings for Vox by legendary producers Marc Aubort and Joanna Nickrenz are considered by audiophiles to be amongst the finest sounding examples of orchestra recordings.” We have reviewed several of the previous Vox “Audiophile Edition” releases (Mozart piano concertos and a Rachmaninov symphony here and Rachmaninov piano concertos here). Those recordings featured the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra under the direction of Leonard Slatkin, as does this recent release of orchestral music by the American composer George Gershwin (1898-1937). Although I might be overstating the case, it seems to me that the majority of classical music fans in America do not really think of Gershwin when they think of American classical music composers – they are more likely to think of Copland, Barber, Ives, Hanson, or perhaps even John Adams. But maybe I’m wrong, and they remember Rhapsody in Blue, the Concerto in F, or some of the Gershwin works included on this recording. Slatkin obviously enjoys this music and delights in bringing out the joy that Gershwin always seemed to be able to infuse into his scores. You hear it especially so in the hustle and bustle of An American in Paris as well as in the vigorous Latin rhythms of the Cuban Overture. The closing Catfish Row selections are swinging and tuneful. Overall, it’s a fun disc, well recorded, full of hummable melodies, an American classic.

The late American conductor Maurice Abravanel (1903-1993) was of Spanish/Portuguese ancestry. Although his name may be unfamiliar to many music lovers, his story is an interesting one and his musical achievements are noteworthy. He was born in Greece and raised in Switzerland, where his family lived in the same house as the conductor Ernest Ansermet, with whom young Maurice played four-hand piano music and was able to meet composers such as Stravinsky and Milhaud. He later studied under Kurt Weill in Berlin, then moved to Paris, where he was music director for Balanchine’s Paris Ballet for three years. Abravanel then moved to the United States and became the youngest ever conductor ever hired at that time by the Metropolitan Opera. In 1943, he became an American citizen, then in 1947 left New York to become the conductor of what was at the time a rather provincial orchestra in Salt Lake City, Utah. He built that orchestra into what became the Utah Symphony Orchestra, the orchestra over which he presided until his retirement for health reasons in 1979. On a personal note, I saw them perform a few times in the 1970s, one of those occasions being a performance being a performance of the Dvořák Cello Concerto with soloist Gregor Piatigorsky (who filled in at the last minute for an ailing Mtsislav Rostropovich) in what would turn out to be his final public performance. 

Abravanel and his orchestra made numerous recording for several labels, including the first complete Mahler symphony cycle by an American orchestra, for the Vanguard label (their recording of the Fourth Symphony with soprano Netania Devrath is still one of the finest available), and the complete orchestral works of Tchaikovsky for Vox, from which this new remastering was taken. Although the Salt Lake Tabernacle was far from an ideal recording venue, its oval domed shape being highly reflective, the Elite Recordings team did their best to deaden the space, draping blanket over the seats and taking special care with microphone placement. The end result is excellent, the orchestra sounding as though it is playing in a large hall, but nothing is blurred. As for the performances, they are also excellent, Abravanel careful not to overplay the dramatic elements to the point where they start to sound hysterical. That is not to say the playing lacks energy, for it certainly does not. This is simply very good, straightforward, well-played, and excellently recorded Tchaikovsky. Good stuff.  

Beethoven: The Late Quartets. (CD1) String Quartet No. 1 in E-flat Major, Op. 127No. 14 in C-Sharp Minor; (CD2) No. 13 in B-Flat Major, Op. 130Grosse Fugue in B-Flat Major, Op. 133Finale, Allegro (Op. 130, replacement finale); (CD3) No. 15 in A-Minor, Op. 132No. 16 in F Major, Op. 135. Calidore String Quartet (Jeffrey Myers & Ryan Meehan, violins; Jeremy Berry, viola; Estelle Choi, cello). Signum Classics SIGCD733

It is certainly natural to be skeptical when encountering yet another boxed set of the late Beethoven quartets; however, it is tempting to become cynical. I will freely confess to being a skeptical sort of person, and I’m sure any attorney worth his hire could find plenty of character witnesses willing to testify to that under oath. And although there have been days when my prayers not to be led into the temptation of cynicism have gone unanswered, I do especially try to avoid being cynical about the motives of musicians regarding what and why they choose to record what they do. After all, the late Beethoven quartets are great masterpieces, music that any serious string quartet would want to record at some point. “Our quartet is continually drawn to Beethoven’s music for the enduring relevance of his humanistic perspective,” begin the Calidore Quartet in their introductory essay before going on to explain that “these great works are also the result of Beethoven’s struggles to overcome the challenges of his own life. In this spirit, our project came together in a very ‘Beethovenian’ way. …[concert cancellations caused by the COVID pandemic] made space for and propelled us towards the idea of recording this cycle of immortal works… and we were fortunate enough to be introduced to the legendary producer Judith Sherman, an artist whose passion for these works and uncompromising standards have made her the perfect partner in chronicling our interpretation of Beethoven.” 

The end result of their collective effort is a fine set indeed, one worthy in both musical and sonic terms to be a first choice for someone looking to acquire a set of these incomparable string quartets. Sonically, in fact, this may well be the finest set of all the many I have ever heard. The natural warmth of the recorded string tone combined with the realistic sense of space makes it especially easy to be drawn into the fascinating music. To be skeptical means to be inclined to look -- or in this case, listen -- quite closely. Those who listen closely to this set will be well rewarded both musically and sonically. 



Meet the Staff

Meet the Staff
John J. Puccio, Founder and Contributor

Understand, I'm just an everyday guy reacting to something I love. And I've been doing it for a very long time, my appreciation for classical music starting with the musical excerpts on the Big Jon and Sparkie radio show in the early Fifties and the purchase of my first recording, The 101 Strings Play the Classics, around 1956. In the late Sixties I began teaching high school English and Film Studies as well as becoming interested in hi-fi, my audio ambitions graduating me from a pair of AR-3 speakers to the Fulton J's recommended by The Stereophile's J. Gordon Holt. In the early Seventies, I began writing for a number of audio magazines, including Audio Excellence, Audio Forum, The Boston Audio Society Speaker, The American Record Guide, and from 1976 until 2008, The $ensible Sound, for which I served as Classical Music Editor.

Today, I'm retired from teaching and use a pair of bi-amped VMPS RM40s loudspeakers for my listening. In addition to writing for the Classical Candor blog, I served as the Movie Review Editor for the Web site Movie Metropolis (formerly DVDTown) from 1997-2013. Music and movies. Life couldn't be better.

Karl Nehring, Editor and Contributor

For more than 20 years I was the editor of The $ensible Sound magazine and a regular contributor to both its equipment and recordings review pages. I would not presume to present myself as some sort of expert on music, but I have a deep love for and appreciation of many types of music, "classical" especially, and have listened to thousands of recordings over the years, many of which still line the walls of my listening room (and occasionally spill onto the furniture and floor, much to the chagrin of my long-suffering wife). I have always taken the approach as a reviewer that what I am trying to do is simply to point out to readers that I have come across a recording that I have found of interest, a recording that I think they might appreciate my having pointed out to them. I suppose that sounds a bit simple-minded, but I know I appreciate reading reviews by others that do the same for me — point out recordings that they think I might enjoy.

For readers who might be wondering about what kind of system I am using to do my listening, I should probably point out that I do a LOT of music listening and employ a variety of means to do so in a variety of environments, as I would imagine many music lovers also do. Starting at the more grandiose end of the scale, the system in which I do my most serious listening comprises Marantz CD 6007 and Onkyo CD 7030 CD players, NAD C 658 streaming preamp/DAC, Legacy Audio PowerBloc2 amplifier, and a pair of Legacy Audio Focus SE loudspeakers. I occasionally do some listening through pair of Sennheiser 560S headphones. I miss the excellent ELS Studio sound system in our 2016 Acura RDX (now my wife's daily driver) on which I had ripped more than a hundred favorite CDs to the hard drive, so now when driving my 2022 Accord EX-L Hybrid I stream music from my phone through its adequate but not outstanding factory system. For more casual listening at home when I am not in my listening room, I often stream music through the phone into a Vizio soundbar system that has tolerably nice sound for such a diminutive physical presence. And finally, at the least grandiose end of the scale, I have an Ultimate Ears Wonderboom II Bluetooth speaker for those occasions where I am somewhere by myself without a sound system but in desperate need of a musical fix. I just can’t imagine life without music and I am humbly grateful for the technology that enables us to enjoy it in so many wonderful ways.

William (Bill) Heck, Webmaster and Contributor

Among my early childhood memories are those of listening to my mother playing records (some even 78 rpm ones!) of both classical music and jazz tunes. I suppose that her love of music was transmitted genetically, and my interest was sustained by years of playing in rock bands – until I realized that this was no way to make a living. The interest in classical music was rekindled in grad school when the university FM station serving as background music for studying happened to play the Brahms First Symphony. As the work came to an end, it struck me forcibly that this was the most beautiful thing I had ever heard, and from that point on, I never looked back. This revelation was to the detriment of my studies, as I subsequently spent way too much time simply listening, but music has remained a significant part of my life. These days, although I still can tell a trumpet from a bassoon and a quarter note from a treble clef, I have to admit that I remain a nonexpert. But I do love music in general and classical music in particular, and I enjoy sharing both information and opinions about it.

The audiophile bug bit about the same time that I returned to classical music. I’ve gone through plenty of equipment, brands from Audio Research to Yamaha, and the best of it has opened new audio insights. Along the way, I reviewed components, and occasionally recordings, for The $ensible Sound magazine. Most recently I’ve moved to my “ultimate system” consisting of a BlueSound Node streamer, an ancient Toshiba multi-format disk player serving as a CD transport, Legacy Wavelet II DAC/preamp/crossover, dual Legacy PowerBloc2 amps, and Legacy Signature SE speakers (biamped), all connected with decently made, no-frills cables. With the arrival of CD and higher resolution streaming, that is now the source for most of my listening.

Ryan Ross, Contributor

I started listening to and studying classical music in earnest nearly three decades ago. This interest grew naturally out of my training as a pianist. I am now a musicologist by profession, specializing in British and other symphonic music of the 19th and 20th centuries. My scholarly work has been published in major music journals, as well as in other outlets. Current research focuses include twentieth-century symphonic historiography, and the music of Jean Sibelius, Ralph Vaughan Williams, and Malcolm Arnold.

I am honored to contribute writings to Classical Candor. In an age where the classical recording industry is being subjected to such profound pressures and changes, it is more important than ever for those of us steeped in this cultural tradition to continue to foster its love and exposure. I hope that my readers can find value, no matter how modest, in what I offer here.

Bryan Geyer, Technical Analyst

I initially embraced classical music in 1954 when I mistuned my car radio and heard the Heifetz recording of Mendelssohn's Violin Concerto. That inspired me to board the new "hi-fi" DIY bandwagon. In 1957 I joined one of the pioneer semiconductor makers and spent the next 32 years marketing transistors and microcircuits to military contractors. Home audio DIY projects remained a personal passion until 1989 when we created our own new photography equipment company. I later (2012) revived my interest in two channel audio when we "downsized" our life and determined that mini-monitors + paired subwoofers were a great way to mate fine music with the space constraints of condo living.

Visitors that view my technical papers on this site may wonder why they appear here, rather than on a site that features audio equipment reviews. My reason is that I tried the latter, and prefer to publish for people who actually want to listen to music; not to equipment. My focus is in describing what's technically beneficial to assure that the sound of the system will accurately replicate the source input signal (i. e. exhibit high accuracy) without inordinate cost and complexity. Conversely, most of the audiophiles of today strive to achieve sound that's euphonic, i.e. be personally satisfying. In essence, audiophiles seek sound that's consistent with their desire; the music is simply a test signal.

Mission Statement

It is the goal of Classical Candor to promote the enjoyment of classical music. Other forms of music come and go--minuets, waltzes, ragtime, blues, jazz, bebop, country-western, rock-'n'-roll, heavy metal, rap, and the rest--but classical music has been around for hundreds of years and will continue to be around for hundreds more. It's no accident that every major city in the world has one or more symphony orchestras.

When I was young, I heard it said that only intellectuals could appreciate classical music, that it required dedicated concentration to appreciate. Nonsense. I'm no intellectual, and I've always loved classical music. Anyone who's ever seen and enjoyed Disney's Fantasia or a Looney Tunes cartoon playing Rossini's William Tell Overture or Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 can attest to the power and joy of classical music, and that's just about everybody.

So, if Classical Candor can expand one's awareness of classical music and bring more joy to one's life, more power to it. It's done its job. --John J. Puccio

Contact Information

Readers with polite, courteous, helpful letters may send them to classicalcandor@gmail.com

Readers with impolite, discourteous, bitchy, whining, complaining, nasty, mean-spirited, unhelpful letters may send them to classicalcandor@recycle.bin.

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa